PP RUEHGR RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHPOD
DE RUEHWN #0023/01 0111710
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 111710Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5988
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUEHXI /LABOR COLLECTIVE
RUE HCV/ AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1856
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J5 MIAMI FL
RUEHCV/USDAO CARACAS VE
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRIDGETOWN 000023
DRL/IL FOR GARBIELA RIGGS
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD
DOL FOR I LAB
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL ELAB XL
SUBJECT: LABOR STRIFE HEATING UP IN EASTERN CARIBBEAN
IQ. Summary: In recent months, there have been a number of
high-profile industrial actions in the Eastern Caribbean. Behind
the increase in industrial actions, lies a worsening economic
situation for the average worker, who is facing shrinking real
income due to high inflation, and decrease in real wages. Labor
unions, once very powerful and able to dictate labor negotiations,
are faced with declining membership and influence. The following is
a summary of these noteworthy cases. End Summary
LIAT Sick Out Cripples Operations Throughout the Region
1.2 . LIAT flight attendants staged an unauthorized two-day sick out
protest, December 19-20, scrambling flight plans throughout region.
LIAT, owned by the governments of Barbados, Antigua, and St Vincent,
is the only regional carrier that covers all of the islands of the
Eastern Caribbean. The other regional carrier, Caribbean Star,
merged with LIAT and closed November 15th.
1.3. The underlying issues were pension funding and the hiring of
contract workers. The airline workers are complaining that LIATT is
underfunding the pension program, and there is concern over the
hiring of contract workers, in lieu of hiring permanent staff.
Although they returned to work after two days, the airline pilots
and flight attendants threatened additional industrial action after
the New Year. The estimated economic cost of the two-day walk out
was ECD 100,000 (USD 37,000).
Cable and Wireless Dispute Mediated Days Before Election
14. Just eleven days before the Barbados parliamentary elections on
January 15, 75 percent of the workers from Cable and Wireless, the
monopolistic telecommunications provider on Barbados, went on
strike, disrupting telephone and Internet operations island-wide.
15. According to the Sir Roy Trottman, the president of the Barbados
Workers Union (BWU), workers were striking against Cable and
Wireless's treatment of workers, particularly the harassment against
those who sought union assistance in resolving problems. Trottman
also pointed out that management did not treat workers with dignity,
such as disciplining them if they gave too much time to individual
customers. Another minor, but important, issue is a lapsed wage
negotiation. The company offered a 10 percent wage increase over a
two-year period while the BWU demanded a 12 percent increase over a
1.6. The Prime Minister personally intervened on January 9th and
convened an all day meeting with the union and the company. They
successfully reached an agreement on new wages, as well as a
commitment to resolve the pending labor management issues. The
strike could prove a political liability as the opposition party has
played up the strike as an example of the administration's
incompetence and unwillingness to stand up for the common man.
ADM Dispute Festering
T_7 . In October, the Barbados Branch office of Arthur Daniels Midlands
Corporation restructured staff, giving 15 senior employees early
retirement and replacing them with contract workers. ADM claimed
the BWU approved of this plan. However, the Union went to the aid
of the fired workers, claiming that ADM did not follow normal
procedures for termination, and threatened to stage a general strike
against the company if the company did not reinstate the workers and
then follow normal procedures for termination.
1[8 . After trading accusations in the media and to LABOFF, the union
and company reached an agreement - the workers were rehired and then
terminated per normal procedures. The Union and Company will meet
January 24, for further discussions. Laboff will continue to follow
this issue and report as warranted. Trottman is seeking to have the
General Manager's work permit revoked as he claimed the GM hired
illegal Guyanese workers to replace the fired workers. (NOTE: The
issue of illegal Guyanese workers is an inflammatory issue in
Barbados. Extremely unpopular, Barbadians fear massive Guyanese
emigration and blame Guyanese for taking jobs away from Barbadians.
Other Labor Conflicts in the Eastern Caribbean
BRIDGETOWN 00000023 002 OF 002
11.9 . In early Summer 2007 the dockworkers (known as "stevedores" at
the St. Kitts port broke with the St. Kitts Shipping Association
because they felt the union was not properly representing them.
The stevedores forming the union are reportedly "casual workers" who
have been doing the job up to 30 years, and do not get paid sick
leave or holidays and claim not to have access to safety equipment.
The union conducted work stoppages in August and November when talks
with Shipping Association broke down Since the unions in St.
Kitts and Nevis have been traditionally tied to the country's ruling
Labour Party, the formation of this small, new union appears to
represent growing discontent with the increasing weakness of the
unions as they have come under greater governmental control.
11_10. Following St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister
Gonsalves ' Independence Day announcement that most civil servants
would receive raises as a result of the governments '
"reclassification exercise," the reclassification results for
teachers announced in late December were not well received by the
Teacher's Union., According to the Union, in some cases the salary
scales were adjusted downwards, meaning that many teachers will
suffer substantial pay cuts. The union also claimed that only about
5% of the teachers would receive raises from the reclassification.
11.11. As a form of protest, the Union decided to call for "two days
of rest and reflection" on January 9 and 10, 2008. The Prime
Minister, before he left the island, blasted the teachers, and the
acting PM Mike Browne insinuated that the Unions' decision was
guided by "anti-government teachers who pushed the decision in that
direction." As in the case of St. Kitts, local contacts have
repeatedly told Poloff that the Gonsalves administration has
hand-picked people loyal to the ruling Unity Labor Party to lead the
unions. The Teacher's Union is widely seen as especially
pro-government, so the recent dispute and industrial action came as
a surprise and likely represents a political miscalculation on
Gonsavles ' behalf.
The Roots of Discontent
11_12. Comment: All of these labor incidents have roots in many of the
chief economic constraints that have been facing Barbados and the
Eastern Caribbean in recent months. Among the key issues underlying
these conflicts are shrinking real incomes due to high inflation,
decreases in real wages, and the influx of foreign workers to
perform at lowers wages.
While the labor unions remain powerful players in Barbados, recent
events highlight the extent to which they have become weakened in
the OECS nations. If the cost of living in the EC continues to rise
as the rate it did in 2007, then labor conflicts and labor union
actions could likewise see a dramatic increase in 2008. End